A celebrated poet collects some recent essays on theory, craft, and other poets.
In her second essay collection, after Proofs and Theories (1994), Glück (English and Creative Writing/Yale Univ.; Faithful and Virtuous Night, 2014, etc.), who has won about every major poetry prize, delivers a generous variety of pieces. Some deal with the current state of American poetry; some are admiring assessments of her fellow poets (Emily Dickinson, Robert Pinsky, Stephen Dobyns, Dan Chiasson); and one group of 10 comprises introductions to first books by new poets, artists whose work Glück has evaluated for various writing contests. These pieces, unsurprisingly, are uniformly laudatory (“mastery of tone and diction”; “haunting, elusive, luminous”)—though, as the essays clearly reveal, the poets themselves are hardly uniform. These pieces also feature many quoted passages. Of course, the more heavily theoretical pieces will appeal primarily to Glück’s fellow poets and to the literati. The author observes, for example, that recent poetry “affords two main types of incomplete sentences: the aborted whole and the sentence with gaps. In each case, the nonexistent, the unspoken, becomes a focus; ideally, a whirling concentration of questions.” Near the end are more personal essays that deal with Glück’s childhood, her years in psychoanalysis, and her insights about the varying effects of happiness and despair on poets. She convincingly argues that happiness is the more beneficial, productive emotion, for it does not deny the writer access to the dark side. Another entertaining and revelatory piece explores the author’s childhood revenge fantasies and how, uniquely, they accelerated her journey into the world of poetry. And there are smiles (maybe even a guffaw or two) in some of her observations—e.g., that Rilke could be “oddly masturbatory.”
A love of poetry—of the poet’s life—infuses these essays and brings a glow to the theoretical and a bright flame to the personal.